Storytime with Jessica – Learning Maths Through Storytelling

I love maths. I loved maths at school and I still love maths. I love shapes and patterns, I love formulae and equations, I’m even a fan of algebra. I’m not a mathematician – if you show me something too complicated my brain will explode but overall I’m a huge fan of maths. But I know that a lot of people out there are put off by maths. Just the word maths can make them want to hide so they often don’t feel quite as comfortable talking about maths with their kids. And for those people, and anyone else who – like me – calls the diamond window on ‘Play School’ a rhombus, I have a list of excellent books that help us talk about maths.

Talking about maths is very important. Talking about maths positively is hugely important. Children develop their world view based on what the adults around them think about things. And if you’re a person who is uncomfortable with maths, or you’re someone who talks about how hard, boring, useless, etc. maths is then children hear that and by the time they get to school they already know that maths is bad. There are lots of people out there who say they are ‘bad at maths’ and not everyone has well-developed maths skills or enjoys it but the best start you can give a child in maths is the same best start you can give them with reading or science – make it fun, make it something you do in your everyday time, and make it something that is not scary!

There are lots of ways to look at maths everyday – look at shapes outside the car windows (geometry), count the number of eggs you put into a cake mixture or the number of shovels in that bucket of sand (number), see how many plastic dinosaurs fit inside their container when you’re packing away (volume), measure their height (measurement), sort a pile of things – and let children decide how to sort, you will be surprised at the amazing things they come up with (classifying – both a maths and science skill). I could go on all day and feel free to leave a comment at the bottom if you’d like me to…

There is also another way to look at maths and that is through books. There are some amazing books about maths out there and I’ve compiled a short, but good, list of them for you.

The first up is a newish book: Have You See My Monster by Steve Light
Have You Seen My Monster
This books is lovely and with very simple text the story is told mainly through the visual medium. There is a little child looking for her monster – he might be at the fair. And then we start to look for our monster who is hiding in plain sight on every page. The great thing about this is that it’s easy for children to spot the monster and be in on the joke. The book is almost entirely done in black and white…except for the maths. This book is perfect for helping to learn two-dimensional shapes (squares, rectangles, circles, ovals, nonagons, etc.).
At the top of each page is a shape and on that page all of those specific shapes are coloured in so they are very obvious to children. And gives you a perfect opportunity to talk about colours as well.

Mr Archimedes’ Bath by Pamela Allen
Mr Archimedes Bath
This book is fun and I remember reading it when I was a kid. Mr Archimedes’ bath always overflows. This could be because he has a vast number of animals in the bath with him but through the story he uses problems solving (maths!) skills to work out where all of the water is coming from. Archimedes (the real mathematician) did discover a way to measure volume using the displacement (how much the water rose when he got in) of water in a bathtub. He probably didn’t bath with quite so many animals though.
Pamela Allen has another lovely book about maths called Who Sank The Boat?

Counting on Frank by Rod Clement
Counting on Frank
I love this book! I have used it in numerous classrooms as a tool for teaching measurement in all its forms. The best part of it is that it uses non-standard units of measurement which is the first way children explore this topic – and how some of us still measure. Also, Rod Clement perfectly captures that sense of curiosity about the world that children have. And as anyone who has listened to kid’s questions will attest they are curious about things that we might think is odd. And that is captured excellently in this book – after all, who isn’t curious about how high toast would pop if the toaster was the size of a house. This book might also give you some fun activities you can do to practise measuring at home.

How Many Legs by Kes Gray and Jim Field
How Many Legs
This book is all about addition. And then adding more. We start with a little boy and his two legs and then on every page we add more and more legs of animals that are coming to his party. This also incorporates some science understanding into the addition and who doesn’t love a book about animals, legs, and parties. It also gives kids a safe way out at the end when it comes to solving the sum.

Mouse Maths series
This is a whole series of books about maths problems which the main characters – two mice, Albert and Wanda, solve using maths. This series allows the reader to see maths as more than simply numbers but as something that is part of everyday life. And that is the purpose of maths; to help solve problems.

Maths Adventure : Solve Fun Puzzles on an Amazing Camping Trip by Kjartan Poskitt, with illustrations by Richard Watson

This book is all about little maths problems for children to solve. The answer to each question is behind a flap. Each problem is short and uses the pictures on the page to help solve the problem. But there is a rich assortment of mathematical language and it reinforces to children that maths is everywhere and we use it all the time. Whether we realise or not.

Sir Cumference and the First Round Table by Cindy Neuschwander and Wayne Geehan
This book is for older children who are reading for themselves. There is something about the tongue-in-cheek manner that this book, and the series it starts, uses that really appeals to me and I know will appeal to children. The books deal with different geometry problems and use the narrative to tell the story of how they use problem solving techniques to solve the problem of the book using maths! And at the end they have a cheeky little aside about why things are named as they are (P.S. they aren’t the real origins of the words but they will appeal to children).  This book is the first in a series about Sir Cumference.

These books are just a small portion of the books that are in the library about maths. All children develop at different stages, so the best thing to do is to find a maths book that suits your child and their level.

There are so many maths rhymes, most of them are about maths. But since my craft is about shapes, I’m going to make the rhyme about shapes too.

Sung to: “Frere Jacques”

This is a square, this is a square,
How can you tell? How can you tell?
It has four sides,
All the same size.
It’s a square, It’s a square.

This is a circle, this is a circle.
How can you tell? How can you tell?
It goes round and round,
No end can be found.
It’s a circle, It’s a circle.

This is a triangle, this is a triangle.
How can you tell? How can you tell?
It only has three sides,
That join to make three points.
It’s a triangle, It’s a triangle.

This is a rectangle, This is a rectangle.
How can you tell? How can you tell?
It has two short sides
And it has two long sides.
It’s a rectangle, It’s a rectangle.

My Shapes Wall Hanger
This is a Shape Wall Hanger and to make it you need:
– Coloured card
– Ribbon
– Stapler
– Scissors

How you can make it:
– I used Microsoft Word to make all of the shapes I could (triangle, star, pentagon, right arrow, cross (dodecagon), circle, hexagon, rectangle, square, oval) and then printed them on the card. I used lots of different colours so that this is also a tool for practising colour recognition.
– Cut them out.
– Staple them to a piece of ribbon, with a card that says ‘Shapes’ if you want one.
– Hang them up and use them to practise your shape and maths language at home.

If you have a favourite mathematics activity or book we’d love to hear about it.
And remember, the more fun you make numbers, counting, shapes, and maths in general, the more likely children will approach it positively.